Freedom from Torture
The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection. When making these decisions, the Government is committed to helping people who have suffered from violence, including torture, at an early point in the asylum process so that decision makers can grant protection, where necessary, without undue delay.
I fully appreciate that in these situations, claimants may be under severe emotional pressure, which is why the Home Office provides relevant information to asylum claimants throughout the process, including signposting to any support they may require. All asylum claimants are provided with a comprehensive leaflet that sets out what to expect at the asylum interview, the possible outcomes of the asylum claim, how to obtain legal advice to support their claim, details of support organisations that might be relevant, rights and responsibilities of asylum seekers, and information about asylum support and how to apply. The Home Office will always provide asylum seekers with accommodation and support to meet their essential living needs if they would otherwise be destitute.
Anyone who falls within the scope of the adults at risk in immigration detention policy, including individuals who may have been a victim of torture, will only be detained when the evidence of vulnerability in their case is outweighed by the immigration considerations. The Government condemns torture of any kind. It is a priority for the UK to combat it wherever and whenever it occurs. Where concerns exist over the possible use of torture, my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will never be afraid to make their opposition known at the highest levels.
I welcome the commitment of the Government to building a single, global immigration system which considers people on skills, rather than nationality. Whilst I did vote to remain, I am clear that when people voted to leave the EU, they did so in the knowledge that the free movement system imposed by the EU would end. The Government is clear that this means continued work to bring net migration down to sustainable levels while ensuring the UK continues to attract and retain those who come to the UK to work and bring significant benefits. The future border and immigration system will support the UK economy, but must also address the public's concerns.
As you know, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has suggested a salary threshold for skilled workers of £30,000. This is to ensure that migrants are making a positive contribution to the UK economy, paying into the public finances and not placing downward pressure on earnings. However, I am concerned that this may be too high a threshold when considering seasonal migrant workers for farms and fishing fleets and those who support the NHS and other public services. In tandem with my Scottish Conservative colleagues, I have therefore written to the Home Secretary to ask if consideration could be given to potential exemptions or a lowering of the threshold where there is a clear case to do so and to press for an open, welcoming immigration policy.
Designing a comprehensive new immigration system will of course take time and consideration. That is why the Government has taken on board the MAC's proposals, while continuing to consult employers, devolved authorities and others to determine whether the threshold is at the right level. As the White Paper released before Christmas makes clear, the Government believes there should be some flexibility where skills are in shortage.
This is an emotive subject. Whilst there is strong scientific evidence that cannabis is a drug which can harm people's mental and physical health, and damage communities, I am relaxed about its prescription in certain cases. I have recently supported a backbench debate on this topic and will speak if it is selected for debate. Recent cases have shown the need to look more closely at the use of cannabis-based medicine in the healthcare sector in the UK. This is why the Government decided it was appropriate to review the scheduling of cannabis.
The review has taken place in two parts. Professor Dame Sally Davies took forward the first part of the review, considering the evidence available for the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of cannabis-based medicines. This informed which cannabis-based medicines should be taken forward to part two of the review. The second part of the review was led by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) which provided an assessment based on the balance of harms and public health needs, of what, if anything, should be rescheduled.
I very much welcome the decision of the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, to reschedule these products. This decision means that senior clinicians will be able to prescribe the medicines to patients with an exceptional clinical need. The ACMD will carry out a longer-term review on rescheduling and make further recommendations within 12 months. It is crucial that this country keeps in step with the latest scientific evidence, so that patients and their families have access to the most appropriate course of medical treatment.
The Government has been absolutely clear, however, that this decision is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. There are no plans to legalise cannabis and the penalties for unauthorised supply and possession will remain unchanged.
Refugees and Family Reunion
I can assure you I strongly support the principle of family unity, and I am glad that there already is a comprehensive framework for refugees and their families to be safely reunited in the UK. The present refugee family reunion policy allows immediate family members of those granted protection in the UK to reunite with them here. The family provisions in the immigration rules provide for relatives with protection in the UK to sponsor children when there are compelling circumstances.
The policy is also clear that where an application fails under the rules, the Government will consider whether there are exceptional reasons to grant leave outside the rules. In addition, refugees with family members in the UK may be eligible for resettlement under the Mandate and Gateway Scheme.
The family reunion policy is designed to provide a safe and legal route for close, dependent family members to join their refugee family in the UK. This avoids the need for family members to make dangerous journeys in order to seek protection. It is crucial that our efforts are concentrated on ensuring that existing resettlement schemes are used to full effect, and that the current rules work properly and effectively. This way we can help those who need it most.
I very much welcome the fact the Minister for Immigration is listening to all sides of the debate on family reunion policy and it is good news that discussions between stakeholders continue. The Government has said it is reflecting on the thoughtful debate around this complex issue. It will be following the passage of the Bill closely and will continue productive discussions in this area. I also believe that we must not create perverse incentives for people, particularly children, to leave their families and risk dangerous journeys hoping relatives can join them later.
Support for Unaccompanied of Trafficked Children
From recent correspondence, I know that the UK Government is committed to tackling every form of modern slavery, including human trafficking. The Government has secured commitment from other governments and institutions, including the UN, the Commonwealth and the EU, to tackle modern slavery, and has successfully lobbied for the establishment of the first ever UN Sustainable Development Goal to end modern slavery. It is also working bilaterally with priority countries to deepen law enforcement cooperation.
The Prime Minister has announced a new taskforce to accelerate progress on tackling human trafficking and modern slavery. At the same time £33.5 million of development assistance funding was also pledged to tackle slavery in countries from where we know victims are regularly trafficked to the UK.
In July 2018, the Home Office announced a review of the Modern Slavery Act, which will incorporate the section on Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs), as you have outlined. This review will be published in spring 2019 and will inform the adoption of any additional methods to protect and support trafficked children. The independent review team has consulted with expert advisers in child trafficking including Professor Ravi Kohli, a Professor of Child Welfare and a qualified social worker. Professor Kohli is responsible for gathering evidence from Child Trafficking interest groups. If you would like more information on this process you can contact the secretariat by emailing email@example.com
I will monitor the progress of this independent review closely, and I look forward to the publication of the report in spring 2019.
Visa Fees for Commonwealth Armed Forces Personnel
I welcome the fact that Commonwealth citizens, including Gurkhas, are exempt from immigration control under the Immigration Act 1971, throughout their service. The consequence of this exemption means that they are free from immigration conditions during the time they remain enlisted in HM Forces.
I understand that those who have served as regulars are in a position to apply for settlement upon discharge, under Appendix Armed Forces of the Immigration Rules. In order to meet the requirements of the rules for indefinite leave to enter or remain, the veterans must meet certain requirements of the immigration rules, which include an application and the payment of fees.
The Home Office has confirmed that, while some veterans may want to apply to become British, there is no requirement for those wishing to remain indefinitely in the UK to naturalise as British citizens. When an individual settles in the UK, and as a consequence ceases to be subject to immigration conditions, they are free to remain in the UK indefinitely.
Whilst I certainly understand the attraction of waiving any fees for former serving personnel, the Home Office must set visa, immigration and citizenship fees at a level that provides the resources needed to operate the border, immigration and citizenship (BIC) system. It is worth noting that general public taxation provides the remainder of the funding for the system. I believe the Government should continue to ensure the system is fair and equitable. Therefore, at present, I remain of the view that it is fair that those who use and benefit from the BIC system should make an appropriate contribution towards meeting the associated costs.